Encounters of the kind below are not what most of us expect when at the beach for a swim and a bit of relaxation on a nice summer day.

Which adds a special touch, for me at least.

You can wade bare-footed at knee to waist depth off almost any white sandy beach in Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf and see several species of pipefish that specialize  in hiding in and around the edges  of those dark patches of seagrass detritus that are such a common feature of this intertidal and shallow sub-tidal habitat .

With  very sharp eyes in very calm clear shallows you may be lucky enough, even without a facemask, to discern a few live pipefish, quite near your feet  but never so much as  touching a toe, among the other 99.99% of almost identical looking bits of genuinely dead plant matter (most of which are indeed those same  strands of detached seagrass leaves that wash ashore to
form lines along the intertidal and upper tidal limit of a beach (or “beachcombing”  section of any beach)  and, seasonally after gales and big tides, form big heaps on the beach.

Pop on a mask, and the subtle differences between the pipefish and the 99.9% of bits of dead seagrass that really are dead seagrass resting on the sand or gently moving with the tide and wavelets becomes apparent.

Seeing is believing.

The two you’ll usually see are the only 2 members of the  Histiogamphelus genus: the Crested Pipefish and Rhino Pipefish, both endemic to Southern Australia.

Have a look one day soon… for a cheap thrill in the most unlikely of places!

Below are some photos that I was able to take in the shallows from 12th to 14th February 2015 (the latter was the most idyllic day of  three successive days): –

There were at least two pipefish in this shot

Pipefish do push the limits intertidally

The shallowest limit for Normanville’s pipefish

An outermost piling of Normanville jetty

Normanville jetty can hide many pipefish when the tide is right

  I found a Briggs Crested Pipefish here

Schools of silverlings often obscured my view

It seems quite likely that goatfish would eat pipefish

A dense detrital island in the shallows

Everything in this shot could be a pipefish!

By David Muirhead

David is a long-serving member of the Marine Life Society of South Australia. He has dived and snorkeled in South Australian waters for around five decades and has a particular interest in bony fishes. David has made the greatest single contribution to the society's Photo Index of local marine species.

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